With Jason Lee, David Cross, Wendie Malick. Rated PG for some mild rude humor. 89 minutes.
For those just wanting to know if their youngsters will like the atrociously named ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL, the answer is simple. If they liked the first one, they’ll like this. It is more of the same with the added “attraction” of The Chipettes, a female trio who mirror Alvin, Simon and Theodore. Jason Lee apparently didn’t want to repeat his role as Dave – their human keeper – and spends much of his limited screen time in a hospital bed. David Cross returns as the evil agent Ian, now planning his comeback via the Chipettes. There’s lots of slapstick, only one joke involving flatulence, and a not-so-subtle message about cooperation and respect.
However, watching this movie brings several questions to mind, and not only “Why are children’s movies are so bad?” It seems that only Pixar (“Up,” “Ratatouille”) remembers what everyone else in Hollywood used to know, that a good children’s movie is one that can be enjoyed by the whole family. It’s not just about keeping the 6-year-olds in their seats.
First, why do filmmakers think people climbing walls and fences at zoos and confronting dangerous animals is funny? Following the horrendous “Old Dogs,” this has just such a scene. Given that it’s being pitched to kids, this is some truly bad role modeling. We don’t need Hollywood to be a nanny, but there is such a thing as being responsible. Was this truly the only way to work out the story?
Second, why do the computer-animated chipmunks and the aliens in “Avatar” seem “real,” while the animated actors in “A Christmas Carol” do not? It’s not that you will believe chipmunks can sing, but that you can easily suspend your disbelief watching “Alvin” in the way you can’t with “A Christmas Carol” or the earlier “The Polar Express.” People have noted that it’s the eyes that make such characters work, but that doesn’t explain why chipmunks and aliens can have expressive eyes but human characters seem like the walking dead.
Third, the plot of “Alvin” involves them going to high school and being recruited by the principal (Wendie Malick) to appear in a competitive talent show. Budget cuts have put music programs on the chopping block but the winning school will receive $20,000 to save their program. You can guess which school’s winning ensures a happy ending, but are we not supposed to notice that that means that the other schools will have to shut their programs down?
Finally, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate provide the voices of the Chipettes. However, their voices are speeded up (as are Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCartney as the Chipmunks). That’s fitting for the characters but why bother to cast celebrity voices if they’re going to be so distorted as to be unrecognizable?
No one expects answers to these questions, but pondering them will help you pass the time if you’re unfortunate enough to have to sit through “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” with your kids.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.